Review: ‘Vengeance’ (2022), starring B.J. Novak, Boyd Holbrook, Issa Rae and Ashton Kutcher

January 12, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ashton Kutcher and B.J. Novak in “Vengeance” (Photo by Patti Perret/Focus Features)

“Vengeance” (2022)

Directed by B.J. Novak

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and briefly in New York City, the comedy/drama film “Vengeance” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A New York City podcaster is persuaded to go to rural Texas to investigate the drug-overdose death of a woman whom he briefly dated. 

Culture Audience: “Vengeance” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/filmmaker B.J. Novak and movies about crime investigations that take dark comedic jabs at society.

B.J. Novak asnd Boyd Holbrook in “Vengeance” (Photo by Patti Perret/Focus Features)

The comedy/drama “Vengeance” puts a satirical spin on a familiar movie concept of a stranger coming to an area to investigate a possible crime, with the stranger feeling like a “fish out of water.” The stranger then usually lets judgment get clouded by internal prejudices, as well as the prejudices of people around the stranger. “Vengeance” makes some of its cultural stereotypes too broad and heavy-handed, and the movie’s ending could have been better. Overall, the story can hold viewers’ interest, as long as there’s tolerance for what the movie is saying about personal biases.

B.J. Novak, a former co-star and writer of the U.S. comedy TV series “The Office,” makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Vengeance,” a movie that he also wrote. “Vengeance” starts out very strong with biting comedy. And then, it meanders back and forth between an intriguing investigation and clumsily handled culture shock, with jokes that are hit and miss. The ending of “Vengeance” is meant to be a surprise twist, but observant viewers can see some clues leading up this ending and can figure out why Novak chose to end the movie this way.

In “Vengeance” (which had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival), Novak portrays Ben Manalowitz, a politically liberal podcaster who lives and works in New York City. Ben, who is also a writer for The New Yorker, is every cliché (for better or worse) of what many people think about a college-educated, New York City media person. Depending on someone’s perspective, Ben is either well-versed and knowledgeable about many topics, or he’s a a smug intellectual snob.

The movie opens with a hilarious scene of Ben and musician John Mayer (portraying himself) having a conversation at a rooftop party in New York City. The conversation topic for these two bachelors is dating. John says, “I don’t ever want to go past knowing what someone’s parents do for a living. If I know what someone has done for a living, I’ve hung too long.”

Ben replies in agreement: “Or siblings. Why does anyone care about your siblings, especially so early [of meeting a potential partner]? Has that ever changed whether you want to date somebody?” John says, “People say guys like us are afraid of commitment. No, we’re afraid of commitment to something we can’t get out of.”

Ben adds, “There’s no such thing as commitment. Fear of commitment is fear of regret.” John replies, “100%. Or fear of intimacy. Please. I’m intimate with everybody.” If only “Vengeance” had more of this type of banter in the movie, it would have been a lot funnier. Viewers won’t get to see much of Ben’s life in New York City, because he will soon be plunged into an unexpected investigation in rural Texas.

It just so happens that Ben wants to do a new investigative series for his podcast, so he pitches an idea to his podcast producer Eloise (played by Issa Rae), who is smart and sarcastic. Ben says that he wants to do a series about why the United States is so divided. However, as he tells Eloise his theory: “America isn’t divided by space. America is divided by time.”

Eloise replies, “Not every white guy in New York needs to have a podcast. You got the verified checkmark. You got The New Yorker position.” Ben says, “I want something more. I don’t just want to be writer. I want to be a voice. As dorky as it sounds, I care about America.”

At home one night, Ben is asleep when he is woken up by the sound of his phone ringing. The person on the other line is sobbing, and he identifies himself as Ty Shaw (played by Boyd Holbrook), who is a complete stranger to Ben. Ty lives in a rural part of western Texas, about five hours away from the city of Abilene. It’s a very politically conservative part of Texas that has almost the opposite of the environment and lifestyle that Ben has in New York City.

At first, Ben doesn’t know the reason for Ty’s call, until Ty tells Ben that Ty is the older brother of Abilene “Abby” Shaw (played by Lio Tipton in flashbacks), who recently died of an opioid overdose at a party in a Texas oil field. Ben and Abby had a fling some years ago that he almost forgot about until Ty’s phone call.

Ty is under the impression, based on the way Abby talked about Ben, that Ben and Abby were in a serious, long-distance relationship. The reality is that Ben and Abby haven’t seen or been in contact with each other for years. Ben tries to tell Ty this information, but Ty is so grief-stricken and insistent that Ben was the love of Abby’s life, Ben goes along with it.

It isn’t long before Ty has convinced Ben to go to Texas for Abby’s funeral, where Ben is asked to give a eulogy about Abby. At the funeral, Ben finds out that Abby was an aspiring singer, so he awkwardly says in his speech: “I know she loved music. She will always be a song in our hearts.”

Ty soon tells Ben that he believes that Abby’s overdose death was murder. Ty also insists that he and Ben are going to track down whoever allegedly murdered Abby. Ty says to be: “You and me, we’re the men in their lives. And they fucked with the wrong two guys.”

Ben tells Ty: “I don’t avenge deaths. I don’t live in a Liam Neeson movie.” Ty responds, “You kind of look like a guy in a Liam Neeson movie.” Ty names “Schindler’s List” as “my least-favorite Liam Neeson movie. Huge downer.” Ty adds, “Stay down here and avenge Abby’s death with me.”

Ben doesn’t take Ty’s murder theory seriously, but Ben sees this investigation as the perfect idea for his next podcast series. He tells Eloise about it and says, “This isn’t a story about vengeance. It’s a story about the need for vengeance, the meaning of vengeance.” Eloise asks, “Dead white girl?” Ben replies, “The holy grail of podcasts.”

And so, Ben ends up getting to know Ty and the rest of the loud and boisterous Shaw family. They include Ty’s three other siblings: 24-year-old sister Paris (played by Isabella Amara), who’s an aspiring filmmaker; 17-year-old sister, Kansas City (played by Dove Cameron), who’s an aspiring “celebrity”; and 9-year-old El Stupido (played by Eli Abrams Bickel), who isn’t called by any other name in the movie.

The siblings’ mother is feisty Sharon Shaw (played by J. Smith-Cameron) and grandmother Carole Shaw (played by Louanne Stephens), who is very racist against people of Mexican heritage. One of the movie’s jokes about Carole is that she doesn’t know that Texas lost the battle of Alamo. Unfortunately, all of the Shaw family characters except for Ty are very underdeveloped and are nothing but hollow stereotypes.

Ben and Ty are told that Mexican drug dealers probably killed Abby. During this investigation, Ben meets and interviews several local people who might have information on what happened to Abby on the night that she died. These locals include a smarmy music producer named Quentin Sellers (played by Ashton Kutcher), who was working with Abby on some music recordings; a drug dealer named Sancholo (played by Zach Villa); and County Sheriff Jimenez (played by Rio Alexander), who is every cliché of an unsophisticated cop.

“Vengeance” has some subtle and not-so-subtle comedy poking fun at stereotypes of “city slickers” and “country hicks.” Ben is doing a podcast series about vengeance, but it begins to dawn on him that he’s experiencing his other podcast series idea about America being a divided country. Not surprisingly, Ben gets some resistance to his investigation because many of the locals think that Ben is an “outsider” who can’t be trusted. The cast members give competent performances, although enjoyment of “Vengeance” will be affected by how much a viewer thinks Kutcher is convincing or not convincing in portraying a Texan.

All of the characters in “Vengeance” are portrayed as alternately amusing or annoying, which seems to be the movie’s point. “Vengeance” doesn’t point fingers at any particular lifestyle or political belief as better than the rest. The movie shows there’s something irritating and ultimately toxic about any mindset that wants to lump people of different cultures into one degrading stereotype. And sometimes, when people get consumed by an “us versus them” mentality, they can end up with the worst traits of the people they despise.

Focus Features released “Vengeance” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 16, 2022, and on Blu-ray and DVD on September 20, 2022. Peacock premiered “Vengeance” on September 16, 2022.

2022 American Music Awards: Taylor Swift is the top winner

November 20, 2022

The following is a press release from ABC:

Taylor Swift at the 2022 American Music Awards at the the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Nvoember 20, 2022 (Photo courtesy of ABC)

Taylor Swift broke her own record of the most wins of any artist in the history of the American Music Awards Sunday night by clinching the top spot in the winner’s circle with six wins at the “2022 American Music Awards” (AMAs), to bring her total count to 40 wins. The year’s hottest night in music represents top achievements in music determined by the fans, for the fans. Hosted by Wayne Brady, the thrilling evening filled with world premiere performances and pop-culture moments aired live on ABC from the Microsoft Theater at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles.

Show highlights included the following:

  •  Eight-time AMA nominee P!NK skated in from the streets of Los Angeles for an epic start to the AMAs, opening the show with a powerful world premiere performance of her brand-new single “Never Gonna Not Dance Again.” She later graced the stage for a moving and powerful performance of “Hopelessly Devoted To You” dedicated to the inspirational life and career of 10-time AMA winner Olivia Newton-John.
  • This year’s AMA host Wayne Brady bantered with the audience, singing about how he prepared to host the AMAs in his opening monologue. Brady also tapped into his “Dancing With The Stars” skills to perform a number alongside his current DWTS partner, Witney Carson. Later in the show, Brady tapped into members of his audience including Niecy Nash-Betts for a random selection of words, which he used to improvise a rap on stage.
  • Two-time nominee Bebe Rexha made her U.S. television performance debut of her global smash hit “I’m Good (Blue)” in an out of this world futuristic performance.
  • Global superstar and Favorite Female Latin Artist winner Anitta made her AMAs stage debut with her smash hit “Envolver” and was joined by two-time AMA winner Missy Elliott who surprised fans hitting the stage to join Anitta for “Lobby.” The two danced through a hotel lobby celebrating the first-ever performance of their smash hit.
  • Country superstar, 17-time AMA winner and all-time Favorite Country Album record-holder Carrie Underwood flew through the theater on a neon orb to the stage to perform her hittrack “Crazy Angels.”
  • First-time nominee GloRilla made her AMAs stage debut with a surprise performance alongside last year’s AMA host Cardi B for their hit “Tomorrow 2.”
  • Imagine Dragons hit the stage for a fiery performance, singing a medley of their hits including “Bones.” The band was later joined by Atlanta rapper J.I.D. for a striking performance of their duo hit “Enemy.”
  • Multiplatinum rapper Lil Baby performed a medley of his smash hits “California Breeze” and “In a Minute” in a suave performance on the AMAs stage.
  • Artist, songwriter and actor Yola took the stage to perform her powerful original song “Break the Bough,” named the American Music Awards SONG OF SOUL, a spotlight moment that highlights an artist that uses music to invoke social change. Yola’s colorful performance showcased her vocal abilities and star power.
  • New Artist of the Year winner Dove Cameron made her AMAs stage debut in a theatrical performance of her hit single “Boyfriend.”
  • Presented by longtime friend Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie received his 18th AMA award with the prestigious Icon Award. Later in the evening, stars joined together to honor Richie with tribute performances, including two-time AMA winner Stevie Wonder and two-time AMA nominee Charlie Puth,who performed a medley of Richie’s hit songs complete with dueling pianos and scat singing.
  • Superstars Jimmie Allen, Ari Lennox, Yola, Muni Long, Melissa Ethridge, Dustin Lynch, and Smokey Robinson joined Wonder and Puth on the stage for an epic surprise recreation of the 1986 AMAs performance of “We Are The World,” a nostalgic highlight of the evening with Lionel joining the group on stage.
  • Adding the musical connectivity to a night filled with superstar performances, tributes and pop culture moments, iconic DJ, producer/rapper and philanthropist D-Nice was the resident 2022 AMAs House DJ.
  • In tribute to the life and career of Loretta Lynn, country star Jimmie Allen took the stage for a quick rendition of one of her greatest hits.
  • Host Wayne Brady led a moment of tribute to the late rapper Takeoff, speaking to his life, career and success in the music industry.

Winner Highlights of the “2022 American Music Awards”:

  • Taylor Swift broke her own record with six AMA wins, making the 40-time winner the most decorated artist in AMAs history. Her album “Red (Taylor’s Version)” earned the awards for Favorite Country Album, Favorite Pop Album and Favorite Music Video, while Swift also won Favorite Female Pop Artist, Favorite Female Country Artist and Artist of the Year. In 2013, Swift won the AMA for Favorite Country Album for the first version of her album “Red.”
  • Last year’s Artist of the Year winners BTS took home two AMAs this year, including the first-ever AMA for Favorite K-Pop Artist.
  • Six-time nominee this year Beyoncé won two awards tonight for Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B Album for her latest album, “Renaissance.”
  • Ghost took home the first-ever AMA for Favorite Rock Album for their latest album “Impera.”
  • This year’s most-nominated artist, Bad Bunny, took home two AMAs for Favorite Male Latin Artist, Favorite Latin Album for “Un Verano Sin Ti.”
  • Elton John won his first AMA since 1998 for Collaboration of the Year for his hit “Cold Heart – PNAU Remix” with Dua Lipa.
    First-time AMA nominee Dove Cameron took home this year’s New Artist of the Year award.
  • Anitta, a first-time nominee this year, won the AMA for Favorite Female Latin Artist.

Presenters throughout the night included Dan + Shay, Dustin Lynch, Ellie Goulding, Jessie James Decker, Jimmie Allen, Karrueche Tran, Kelly Rowland, Kim Petras, Liza Koshy, Latto, Meghan Trainor, Melissa Etheridge, Niecy Nash-Betts, Roselyn Sanchez, Sabrina Carpenter, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Smokey Robinson.


2022 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS WINNERS
Artist of the Year: Taylor Swift
New Artist of the Year: Dove Cameron
Collaboration of the Year: Elton John & Dua Lipa “Cold Heart – PNAU Remix”
Favorite Touring Artist: Coldplay
Favorite Music Video: Taylor Swift “All Too Well: The Short Film”
Favorite Male Pop Artist: Harry Styles
Favorite Female Pop Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Pop Duo or Group: BTS
Favorite Pop Album: Taylor Swift “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Favorite Pop Song: Harry Styles “As It Was”
Favorite Male Country Artist: Morgan Wallen
Favorite Female Country Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Country Duo or Group: Dan + Shay
Favorite Country Album: Taylor Swift “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Favorite Country Song: Morgan Wallen “Wasted on You”
Favorite Male Hip-Hop Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Favorite Female Hip-Hop Artist: Nicki Minaj
Favorite Hip-Hop Album: Kendrick Lamar “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”
Favorite Hip-Hop Song: Future ft. Drake & Tems “WAIT FOR U”
Favorite Male R&B Artist: Chris Brown
Favorite Female R&B Artist: Beyoncé
Favorite R&B Album: Beyoncé “Renaissance”
Favorite R&B Song: Wizkid ft. Tems “Essence”
Favorite Male Latin Artist: Bad Bunny
Favorite Female Latin Artist: Anitta
Favorite Latin Duo or Group: Yahritza Y Su Esencia
Favorite Latin Album: Bad Bunny “Un Verano Sin Ti”
Favorite Latin Song: Sebastián Yatra “Dos Oruguitas”
Favorite Rock Artist: Machine Gun Kelly
Favorite Rock Song (NEW): Måneskin “Beggin’”
Favorite Rock Album (NEW): Ghost “Impera”
Favorite Inspirational Artist: for KING & COUNTRY
Favorite Gospel Artist: Tamela Mann
Favorite Dance/Electronic Artist: Marshmello
Favorite Soundtrack: “ELVIS”
Favorite Afrobeats Artist (NEW): Wizkid
Favorite K-Pop Artist (NEW): BTS

2022 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARD WINNERS BY ARTIST
Taylor Swift (6): Artist of the Year, Favorite Music Video, Favorite Female Pop Artist, Favorite Pop Album,  Favorite Female Country Artist, Favorite Country Album
Bad Bunny (2): Favorite Male Latin Artist, Favorite Latin Album
Beyonce (2): Favorite Female R&B Artist, Favorite R&B Album
BTS (2): Favorite Pop Duo or Group, Favorite K-Pop Artist
Harry Styles (2): Favorite Male Pop Artist, Favorite Pop Song
Kendrick Lamar (2): Favorite Male Hip-Hop Artist, Favorite Hip-Hop Album
Morgan Wallen (2): Favorite Male Country Artist, Favorite Country Song
Tems (2): Favorite Hip-Hop Song, Favorite R&B Song
Wizkid (2): Favorite R&B Song, Favorite Afrobeats Artist (NEW)
Anitta (1): Favorite Female Latin Artist
Chris Brown (1): Favorite Male R&B Artist
Coldplay (1): Favorite Touring Artist
Dan + Shay (1): Favorite Country Duo or Group
Dove Cameron (1): New Artist of the Year
Drake (1): Favorite Hip-Hop Song
Dua Lipa (1): Collaboration of the Year
Elton John (1): Collaboration of the Year
“ELVIS” (1): Favorite Soundtrack
for KING & COUNTRY (1):Favorite Inspirational Artist
Future (1): Favorite Hip-Hop Song
Ghost (1): Favorite Rock Album (NEW)
Machine Gun Kelly (1):Favorite Rock Artist
Måneskin (1): Favorite Rock Song (NEW)
Marshmello (1): Favorite Dance/Electronic Artist
Nicki Minaj (1): Favorite Female Hip-Hop Artist
Sebastián Yatra  (1): Favorite Latin Song
Tamela Mann (1): Favorite Gospel Artist
Yahritza Y Su Esencia (1): Favorite Latin Duo or Group

About the “2022 American Music Awards”:

  • The AMAs represents the year’s top achievements in music determined by the fans, for the fans. Last year’s show stands as the most social telecast of 2021 with 46.5 million interactions, underscoring the role fans play in the annual event. A vibrant night of non-stop music, the AMAs features a powerful lineup featuring first-time collaborations and exclusive world premiere performances from music’s biggest names – from Pop to Rap, R&B to Country, Latin to K-Pop – and more, as well as memorable moments that live on in pop culture.
  • As the world’s largest fan-voted awards show, the AMAs air globally across a footprint of linear and digital platforms in more than 120 countries and territories.
  • The “2022 American Music Awards” winners are voted entirely by fans.Nominees are based on key fan interactions – as reflected on the Billboard charts – including streaming, album and song sales, radio airplay, and tour grosses. These measurements are tracked by Billboard and its data partner Luminate, and cover the eligibility period of Sept. 24, 2021, through Sept. 22, 2022.
  • Airing live on ABC, the “2022 American Music Awards” are produced by dick clark productions and Jesse Collins Entertainment. Jesse Collins is showrunner and executive producer. Dionne Harmon, Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, and Larry Klein are also executive producers. For the latest AMA news, exclusive content and more, follow the AMAs on social (FacebookTwitterInstagramTikTokSnapchat and YouTube), online at theamas.com and ABC.com, and join the conversation by using the official hashtag for the show, #AMAs.

ABOUT DICK CLARK PRODUCTIONS
dick clark productions is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the “Streamy Awards.” dick clark productions owns one of the world’s most extensive and unique entertainment archive libraries with more than 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. For more information please visit www.dickclark.com.

ABOUT ABC ENTERTAINMENT
ABC Entertainment’s compelling programming includes “Grey’s Anatomy,” the longest-running medical drama in primetime television; ratings juggernaut “The Bachelor” franchise; riveting dramas “Big Sky,” “The Good Doctor,” “A Million Little Things,” “The Rookie” and “Station 19”; trailblazing comedies “Abbott Elementary,” “The Conners,” “The Goldbergs,” “Home Economics” and “The Wonder Years”; popular game shows, including “The $100,000 Pyramid,” “Celebrity Family Feud,” “The Chase,” “Press Your Luck” and “To Tell the Truth”; star-making sensation “American Idol”; “Judge Steve Harvey,” the network’s strongest unscripted series debut in a year; reality phenomenon “Shark Tank”; family favorites “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Holey Moley”; “General Hospital,” which heads into its milestone 60th season on the network; and late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”; as well as the critically acclaimed, Emmy®Award-winning “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” specials. The network also boasts some of television’s most prestigious awards shows, including “The Oscars®,” “The CMA Awards” and the “American Music Awards.”

ABC programming can also be viewed on Hulu.

ABOUT JESSE COLLINS ENTERTAINMENT
Founded in 2012, Jesse Collins Entertainment (JCE) is a full-service television and film production company that has played an integral role in producing many of television’s most memorable moments in music entertainment. The Emmy® winning company has a multi-year overall agreement with ViacomCBS Cable Networks. On the film side, the company also has a first look on JCE’s film development projects which could include Viacom’s film entities such as Paramount Players.  JCE’s award-winning and critically acclaimed television includes programming from its three divisions.  From the scripted division: scripted series—Real Husbands of Hollywood, American Soul and miniseries—The New Edition Story and The Bobby Brown Story.  From the unscripted division: unscripted series – Cardi Tries, My Killer Body with K. Michelle, DJ Cassidy’s Pass the Mic and Forward: The Future of Black Music, competition/game shows—Becoming A Popstar, Rhythm + Flow, Sunday Best, Hip Hop Squares and Nashville Squares, talk show – Face to Face with Becky G and children’s series—Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices (Emmy® Award winner).  From the specials division: award shows—The American Music Awards, BET Awards, Soul Train Awards, BET Hip Hop Awards, Black Girls Rock!, BET Honors, UNCF’s An Evening of Stars and ABFF Honors, specials—The Super Bowl Halftime Show, CNN’s Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom, Martin: The Reunion, John Lewis: Celebrating A Hero, Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration, Change Together: From The March On Washington To Today, A GRAMMY Salute to the Sounds of Change, Stand Up for Heroes, Dear Mama, Amanda Seales: I Be Knowin’, Def Comedy Jam 25, Leslie Jones: Time Machine, The All-Star Nickmas Spectacular and Rip the Runway.  Emmy® winner Jesse Collins, Founder and CEO, is the executive producer of all programming.  He is also an executive producer for the Grammy Awards.  He produced the 2021 Oscars.

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